Tuesday, December 17, 2013

The reliability of the Bible

One of the core tenets of Christian apologetics is, of course, that the Bible is a reliable and accurate historical document, and that Jesus was a real person, and pretty much exactly like described in the Bible. Miles and miles of text has been written by such apologists and theologians trying to argue why this is so.

These are some of the most common arguments they make, and why they are invalid.

"Historians almost unanimously agree that Jesus was a real person."

No, they don't. Some strongly argue for it, others against it. Most are open to the possibility of a person named "Yeshua" having existed, who was the basis of the texts, but they don't assert it. Others propose that the "Jesus" of the text is actually an amalgamation of several people (plus a good deal of embellishment.)

The vast majority of historians would agree that it's possible that the story of Jesus is loosely based on a real person, but that the vast majority of the details about him in the New Testament are inaccurate. They also would agree that it's possible that no such person existed at all. Thus, there is no unanimous agreement.

"Most historians agree that the New Testament is historically realiable."

No, they most definitely don't. This is just an outright lie perpetuated by dishonest apologists.

In fact, there are even many Christian historians and theologians who admit to the possibility that many of the events described in the New Testament probably never happened. (Of course the apologists who perpetuate the lie will just resort to the no-true-scotsman fallacy at this point.)

"There are numerous extrabiblical sources for the existence of Jesus."

Actually, there aren't. None at all. This is another lie perpetuated by these dishonest apologists.

They will cite several historians of the first and second centuries, but in every single case these historians are not accounting contemporary historical events, but instead are describing Christians and their beliefs. Invariably, all these mentions were written many decades (sometimes even over a century) after the alleged events of the New Testament. A document mentioning Jesus is not a very reliable source if said document was written a hundred years after Jesus (allegedly) died, and in context is just describing what Christians believed.

For example, apologists just love to mention Josephus, as he mentions Jesus' followers in his text. What they don't mention is that Josephus was born in 37 AD, long after Jesus' alleged death. Hardly a contemporary eyewitness. (All the other historians that apologists love to cite were born later than Josephus, so they aren't any better.)

"The New Testament is reliable because of the thousands of eyewitnesses."

This is a perfect example of a circular argument. It argues that there were thousands and thousands of eyewitnesses to the events described in the gospels, and thus the New Testament is very reliable. But how do we know there were thousands of eyewitnesses? Because the New Testament says so. There is no other source for these alleged eyewitnesses.

I don't think it's necessary to add anything to that. It's a circular argument in its purest form. (And this isn't even going into the fact of how unreliable eyewitness testimony is, no matter how many witnesses there are.)

"The gospels cannot be inaccurate because the people who lived in those places and witnessed those events would have objected to the inaccuracies."

This is one of the favorite arguments of many apologists, and it's one of the stupidest.

Firstly, the gospels were just some books written by some people, which were copied and spread very slowly. They did not mass-print them for the masses because there was no printing technology. And even if a copy did end up in the hands of someone who had lived at one of those places at the correct time, and even if this person had realized that the described events never actually happened, so what? This person probably didn't know who had written the text, nor had the means to do something about it even if he or she wanted.

Also, even if it did happen, the person could have just thought that he didn't witness it because he was just unlucky. It probably happened on the other side of the city, or when he was not around to see it.

Secondly, the gospels were written several decades after the alleged events. Most of the potential eyewitnesses had died or were too young to remember.

Thirdly, we have actual examples of fictional biographies, or biographies with inaccuracies in them, having been written very soon after a person has died, and with nobody objecting to them or correcting them. (The biography of George Washington is a perfect example.) And these are not biographies written decades after the person's death, but almost immediately.

"The gospels cannot be a case of real history having become legendary because they were written too soon after the events."

This is appealing to the notion that historical writing cannot become distorted by legends if it's written too soon after the events. This is a misunderstanding of the original proposition, and is very demonstrably false.

It also has the big problem that it assumes that there were events to be distorted by legends in the first place. There's absolutely nothing that would have stopped the authors of the gospels from just inventing the events.

You could just as well argue that the Harry Potter books were written too soon after the events they describe in order for them to be inaccurate. It makes absolutely no sense.

"The New Testament is reliable because this or that person, or this or that place, really existed."

A very common, and strange, argument that many Christians present, including these apologists, is that since there are some details in the Bible that are demonstrably true, that means that the entire Bible is reliable.

In other word, since it's demonstrably true that this or that king or head of state existed, then that means that the entire story of Jesus' crucifixion and burial is true. This argument makes no sense whatsoever.

You could use the exact same argument to claim that the Harry Potter books are reliable history because they talk about real cities.

"Martyrs wouldn't have died for a lie."

This is an even stranger argument given that people die all the time around the world because of their convictions. Surely these Christians are not going to argue that all belief systems are accurate because of that?

(Of course apologists will respond to this with special pleading, claiming that Christianity is in this regard somehow different from all those other thousands of belief systems.)

"If Jesus didn't rise from the dead, then how did the church begin? You have to give a plausible alternative explanation."

(Yes, this really is an argument that some apologists, even very high-profile ones, make.)

I don't even understand this argument. We have countless religion around the world and over all of history. How did they all begin? First a small group of people start believing in something (often the ideas of one single person) and they start gathering more and more people. As time passes, they develop more and more intricate details to their new religion. I don't even see what's the problem here.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Anything goes (as long as it's not science)

I have written about this subject previously, but it just never ceases to amaze me.

There's an almost frightening amount of people in this world who would believe almost anything. The only two criteria that they seem to apply to what they believe are:
  1. It's believed by a significant amount of people.
  2. The scientific community does not accept it.
(And by "significant" I don't mean millions. I mean hundreds.)

As unbelievable as it sounds (and to me it still does), there really are many people out there who will accept almost anything as long as it's something that science does not accept. It literally doesn't matter how completely crazy and clearly made-up it is, as long as a group of people believe it, and as long as science does not, they will believe it too (or, at the very least, consider it possible and be completely uncritical about it.)

Scientific claims are believed only if they pertain to the person's immediate practical surroundings and experience, or if they have no significance to their other beliefs. Scientific claims that contradict their other beliefs will be freely dismissed without thought or rationale.

Naturally scientific claims that can be used to bolster some of their other beliefs will be used. Or rather, a completely distorted-beyond-recognition version of a simplified "reader's digest" version of the scientific theory (ie, not only will an inaccurate overly-simplified version of the scientific theory be used, but even that will then be distorted to accommodate and support whatever claim the person wants.)

Just to give a taste, here are two actual examples of what some people accept completely uncritically:

They believe that some ten thousand years ago people from Mars arrived to Earth, and many people today are their descendants. And why exactly do they believe this? Because one person a couple of decades ago claimed to have a vision where he got this information (among a ton of other even crazier stuff.)

That's all. There's exactly zero evidence of this other than the claim of this one man that he got this information in a vision. And thousands of people today believe this completely uncritically.

Another example is the claim that in recent years hundreds of "super-psychic" children have been born in China. According to this claim, these children can do almost anything (including telepathy, levitating and moving objects, moving through solid objects, and so on.)

Why hasn't this hit all the news media around the world? For the flimsiest of excuses: According to these people, the Chinese scientists are afraid to publish these results for fear of ridicule. (They don't seem to be fazed by the contradiction that this poses: How do they know about this event if nobody in the news media knows about it? Why hasn't this leaked?)

The people who uncritically believe these things demand no evidence. It's enough if many other people believe it too, and someone who is charismatic enough makes the claim.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Birds and dinosaurs

For some reason creationists are in a crusade to try to discredit the notion that birds have evolved from dinosaurs. It's probably their second-most popular specific claim that they oppose about evolutionary history (the most popular being, of course, that humans and apes have a common ancestor species.) I don't even understand why they hate the notion that much. Even the creationists who accept 99% of the theory of evolution (without using that name, of course) still oppose the notion that birds are dinosaurs.

There are a couple of scientists who, while not being creationists, also loudly oppose the notion that birds evolved from dinosaurs. They are very vocal, and are sometimes quoted in tabloids and blogs.

Naturally creationists often cling to these tabloid articles as well. It really helps bolster their anti-evolutionary movement when they can quote newspaper headers like "birds have not evolved from dinosaurs after all, say scientists".

There's a huge irony in this, however. Those few scientists are not defending creationism. Their claim is that birds and dinosaurs have a more ancient common ancestor, rather than birds having evolved directly from dinosaurs. (This claim has been discredited by paleontologists and evolutionary biologists time and again, but it's still a somewhat rational and scientific hypothesis to make. It simply puts into question where exactly birds branched out in the evolutionary tree, and proposes that it happened earlier.)

In other words, the creationists are promoting an alternative evolutionary tree for birds, without realizing it. Those scientists who create those controversial tabloid news headers are not claiming that evolution didn't happen. They are simply saying that birds evolved from a more ancient ancestral species than dinosaurs.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

The Bible needs constant reassurance

Have you noticed how so many Christians, especially apologists, are constantly repeating the same mantras about how "the Bible is the perfect word of God", how it's infallible and unchanging, how there are no contradictions, how it's morally absolute, and so on? Likewise Christians are constantly repeating how God is good, God loves you, etc.

Many people have noticed, and they make a quite good point, that this is quite telling about the Bible.

Normally a work or other source of information does not need constant reassurances because it can stand on its own. You don't see people constantly reassuring that, to take a completely random example, "Euclid's Elements is full of correct and useful mathematical proofs." They don't have to do that because Euclid's Elements can stand on its own merits and does not need people to be constantly reminding you how good it is. You can check the veracity of what it says and come up with your own conclusions about its validity.

Not so with the Bible. It cannot stand on its own merits (given how many morally questionable rules and advise it gives, how many contradictions it has, how heinous the crimes of the god it depicts are, and so on) and thus Christians need to be constantly reassuring and reminding themselves that it is good and valid.

If the Bible were indeed the perfect, infallible word of a perfect omniscient God, then it would need no such reassurances because anybody would be able to check its validity on their own.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Proof of virginity

Deuteronomy 22 is overall one of the most embarrassing chapters in the entire Bible and doesn't get much attention among Christians. It's seldom brought up in church, or even in Bible study sessions, and even when it rarely is brought up, it's usually quickly shoved aside with some light excuses and rationalizations.

Perhaps the most embarrassing passages of this chapter are the following:

13 If a man takes a wife and, after sleeping with her, dislikes her 14 and slanders her and gives her a bad name, saying, “I married this woman, but when I approached her, I did not find proof of her virginity,” 15 then the young woman’s father and mother shall bring to the town elders at the gate proof that she was a virgin. 16 Her father will say to the elders, “I gave my daughter in marriage to this man, but he dislikes her. 17 Now he has slandered her and said, ‘I did not find your daughter to be a virgin.’ But here is the proof of my daughter’s virginity.” Then her parents shall display the cloth before the elders of the town, 18 and the elders shall take the man and punish him. 19 They shall fine him a hundred shekels of silver and give them to the young woman’s father, because this man has given an Israelite virgin a bad name. She shall continue to be his wife; he must not divorce her as long as he lives.
20 If, however, the charge is true and no proof of the young woman’s virginity can be found, 21 she shall be brought to the door of her father’s house and there the men of her town shall stone her to death. She has done an outrageous thing in Israel by being promiscuous while still in her father’s house. You must purge the evil from among you.
What this is saying that when a married woman has sex with her husband for the first time, it's expected for her to bleed (because her hymen breaks), and for the parents of the woman to take the bedsheet as "proof" that she was a virgin.

This passage has quite many problems. All these problems give an interesting light to the claim that the Bible is the perfect and infallible word of God.

Firstly, this really demonstrates the emphasis that this culture of the antiquity put on virginity, but let's not go there now.

One of the major problems with this passage (supposedly from the perfect and infallible word of God) is that the "proof of virginity" is extremely flimsy. There are many problems with it, including:
  • Not all women, even if virgin, bleed when having sex for the first time. There are numerous reasons for this. Also, some women may bleed more than others, and some may bleed so little that it wouldn't leave any clearly visible and unambiguous stain. This means that a woman could get stoned to death because she happened to be one of the unlucky ones who didn't bleed.
  • The blood stain could be trivially faked. If the parents didn't want their daughter to die, then they could easily fabricate the "proof".
  • How are the parents supposed to get the bedsheet? Are they supposed to be waiting on the other room or something? Moreover, even if the sheet would get stained, the man could easily dispose of the bedsheet and claim that there was no blood.
Overall, this "proof of virginity" is so flimsy, so unreliable, and so prone to misuse, that one really has to wonder how this could possibly be the "perfect and infallible word of God." The whole thing is just outright embarrassing.

Of course the even more serious and embarrassing part is the death by stoning if a woman cannot prove having been a virgin. How exactly is this moral and just? Is this really the perfect absolute morality that we are supposed to embrace?

Notice also what happens if the man does not like her new wife and is unable to accuse her of being a slut: He pays money to the wive's parents and is forced to be married to her for life. That's one happy marriage for you. And of course, the woman is not consulted on any of this.

How many Christians, who advocate the Bible as the perfect and infallible word of God, the absolute moral law that we all should follow, would be ready to follow these passages?

Thursday, October 24, 2013

The deceptive first premise of Kalam

To recapitulate the Kalam cosmological argument, it goes like this:
  1. Whatever begins to exist has a cause.
  2. The Universe began to exist.
  3. Therefore the Universe has a cause.
One of the major problems with the first premise is that it's deceptively ambiguous. Especially William Lane Craig is infamous for using this ambiguousness to resort to equivocation fallacies in order to defend the first premise.

The first premise is ambiguous because it doesn't specify what kind of "begins to exist" it's talking about. It implies, but doesn't unambiguously state, that it's talking about creation ex nihilo (in other words, out-of-nothing, ie. first there's nothing, then something appears.)

Assuming creation ex nihilo is unfounded because we have exactly zero examples of this. We cannot corroborate that it happens, and even if it happens, if it has a cause, and even if it has a cause, what that cause might be. Simply assuming that it happens and, especially, that it must have a cause, is completely faulty logic. "It makes sense" is not a valid argument for this.

However, when people like Craig try to defend it, they will switch to the other meaning of "begins to exist", which is the more abstract version, ie. energy/matter transforming from one form to another (in other words, for example a table "begins to exist" when the carpenter builds it.)

This is not a distortion or misinterpretation of what, for example, Craig does. This is exactly his argument. In a video, when responding to the objections to the first premise, he directly states things like "didn't dinosaurs begin to exist? Didn't I began to exist?" and then proceeds to belittle the people who present the objection.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Determining the cause for events

When faced with claims of extraordinary events (such as psychic phenomena or miracles), there are, roughly speaking, two steps to be performed to determine their veracity:
  1. Corroborating that the event actually happens.
  2. Determining the cause for that event.
These are two very important steps. Jumping directly to the second step is rather moot if the first step has not been corroborated. After all, if the event isn't actually happening at all, trying to discover its cause is a wild goose chase.

The second step is also extremely important, and it's the step that most of these people want to skip. They will spend enormous amounts of time and effort to convince themselves and other people that the extraordinary event is indeed happening... and then just jump to their preferred conclusion, without even attempting to corroborate if that's the true cause.

For example, many believers will spend lots of time trying to convince people that miracle healings do indeed happen. They then just jump to God.

This is, of course, flawed reasoning. Even if the event were really happening, that still doesn't tell us what causes it. That would have to be determined before we can draw any conclusions.

(Of course it doesn't help much that all such extraordinary claims fail miserably even step 1.)

Thursday, October 10, 2013


Some Christian pseudophilosophers accuse scientists and skeptics for being "naturalists" and "anti-supernaturalists." In other words, they accuse them of having the bias and preconception that only the physical exists, and every single phenomenon must have a physical, natural explanation, and that supernatural explanations are rejected outright, without consideration and as a matter of principle.

While extreme naturalists (ie. those who really and honestly think like that, and who willfully reject even the possibility of the existence of the supernatural) are a relative minority of all scientists and skeptics (the majority of them not rejecting the supernatural outright, but considering naturalism as the default position until otherwise demonstrated), even extreme naturalism is quite justified. A lot more justified than the opposite.

The reason for this is that naturalism just outright works, and gives real, tangible results that have a real effect on the real world, and has been so for millenia, while supernaturalism has an abysmal record on this.

Every single step in our technological and medical progress, every single discovery, every single advance in both real-world useful knowledge and in practical applications, has been a pure product of naturalism. In other words, of studying the physical world, finding out how it works, and applying that knowledge to affect our surroundings.

And not only has every single such step been thanks to naturalism, it has been extremely efficient at it. We make more progress via naturalist techniques and approaches in one year than supernaturalism has done in thousands of years.

Supernaturalism is just useless for anything tangible. Our knowledge has not advanced thanks to it, our technology has not advanced thanks to it, our medicine has not advanced thanks to it... in fact, nothing of real tangible value has advanced thanks to supernaturalism. Supernaturalism has not contributed in any way, shape or form to our current level of progress. The only things that supernaturalism has affected are fuzzy abstract notions, opinions, behaviors, feelings and personal subjective experiences. None of which has actually helped progress, nor can be demonstrated to be actually caused by anything supernatural.

So why exactly should one believe in the supernatural? Not only is pure naturalism a good and pragmatic choice, it's the only rational choice.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

The "God vs. science" false dichotomy

There seems to be a rather curious deeply-ingrained notion among many of the most fundamentalist Christians and creationists that whatever science cannot explain, God is somehow automatically a valid default answer.

Many of them will spend countless hours trying to discredit science and find holes in it, belittling it, denigrating it and mocking it. Once they find a hole that science cannot currently explain, or the explanation is too esoteric for the average layman to understand, they will cling to it like rabid dogs.

Somehow they have this notion that they can fill these gaps with God. In fact, they often talk like God would be somehow automatically the default valid, and only, alternative. Therefore, if you succeed in "disproving" some aspect of science, you have (they think) automatically proven the existence of God.

This is just an outright false dichotomy. Even if there is something that science can't explain, even if it's something that science will never be able to explain (for example because of our limited resources and the fact that we are bound by physical laws), that doesn't somehow automatically give credence to the existence of a god. It simply means that we don't know, and that's it.

And this isn't even going into the fact that even if we entertained the god hypothesis, we would still know absolutely nothing about this god. These Christians always jump from "the god explanation" to "the God of Christianity", as if that would be a completely sensible and valid thing to do.

This can be really blatant sometimes. I was once engaged in an online conversation with a Christian, and the subject was precisely this. When I asked how can we know anything about this hypothetical god, he literally started quoting the Bible, as if that were the completely natural and logical thing to do.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Another form of Christian insincerity

Most Christians oppose gay marriage and gay adoption rights because of their scriptures (and the most prevalent Christian theology that's taught by most denominations.) Not only that, but a good portion of them not only oppose those things, they moreover think that if a country were to accept and legalize them, bad things would happen because that would "anger God."

Of course in most civilized countries, especially in Europe, they can't just go to a government representative and say that. It would be simply ignored as a religious dogma that has no bearing on what the government should do. Therefore these Christians have to come up with some alternative, secular reasons, why gays shouldn't get these rights.

This is another form of insincerity by Christians. Everybody knows the real reason why they oppose equal gay marriage rights, but they have to come up with excuses to circumvent those reasons and invent more "plausible" reasons to protest.

This, in turn, causes them to engage in even more insincerity and distortion. The most common excuse they come up with is "the rights of children to have a mother and a father." They completely ignore the studies that have been made on the subject (whose result has been that there's no significant difference between heterosexual and homosexual parents with regard to the wellbeing of a child), and oftentimes they outright fabricate "thousands of studies" that show the opposite. (Don't hold your breath waiting for them to give the thousands of references. They don't exist.)

When you bring forth the most obvious flaw in their argument, they immediately engage in double-think. In other words, if their argument is that "children have the right to a mother and a father", that would mean that single parents should have no rights to their own children (in the same way as homosexual couples should have no rights to get children.) I have had a Christian literally answer to me along the lines of: "What do you mean? Of course they have rights to their own children!" Seemingly this Christian was completely incapable of seeing the connection between the two arguments, which would have shown a big flaw in his.

It seems to me that most Christians are just repeating this argument like a mantra, without even understanding what they are saying.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Conspiracy theories are religions

I may have mentioned some of this in an earlier blog post, but I find it very interesting how strikingly similar conspiracy theories are to religions. They may not be theistic religions and they may not deal with the supernatural, but otherwise they present most of the same phenomena that religions do.

Many of the people who have converted into them feel the urge to convert others, which is extremely typical of religion. In fact, in some places (especially the United States) conspiracy theorists are more organized, louder and more intrusive than most religions are. They will preach to people on the streets, distribute pamphlets, books and videos, they will go on radio and TV shows, they will organize protests, marches, ad campaigns and so on. They are also strikingly similar to creationists in how they present their arguments, the kinds of argumentative fallacies they use, and what their opinions are about science and the scientific community.

In fact, creationists are not the only striking parallel. Such parallels can be found with many other extremist cults such as scientologists and some of the most extreme denominations of Christianity and other religions, such as the Westboro Baptist Church.

Individual conspiracy theorists will also show striking resemblance to the most avowed religious people. Many times when you watch them eg. on TV shows, interviews, discussion panels and so on, you can clearly see the outright fervor and passion they have for it. (One particular example was outright hilarious. It was a TV show discussing the 9/11 conspiracy theories, and the guests were two of the authors of one of the most popular "documentaries" on the subject, and two people from Popular Mechanics. While the latter two remained completely calm, collected and civil throughout the entire debate, the two conspiracy theorists had really difficult time collecting themselves. They were constantly shaking their heads and clearly showing extreme frustration, so bad in fact that they seemed to have difficulties remaining seated. You could outright see their blatant religious fervor. It was quite amusing to watch.)

It's curious how conspiracy theories seem to have gained enormous popularity during the past decade or so. Before that they were just fringe phenomena believed by an extremely small minority, who were mostly regarded as silly and deluded (if not outright lunatic) by the rest of the population. And this is not just with conspiracy theories that have popped up during the last decade. For example the Moon landing hoax theories have existed since at least the 80's but didn't gain any kind of widespread popularity until well into the 2000's.

One could say that conspiracy theories are one of the fastest-growing religions in the modern world.

I believe that the main reason for this is the popularization and wide availability of the internet, as well as the progress in technology, which has allowed basically anybody to create writings and videos and publish them for the entire world to see. Back in the 80's and long into the 90's only an extremely small portion of the population could ever hope to be able to create such a work and make it widely available. The most that people could hope to achieve was to write a book, which would then usually have a ridiculously small circulation and would mostly be forgotten.

For the past ten years or so, however, anybody can create online "books" and videos with little to no money, using free and cheap tools that were only available for the rich in the past, and with a cheap channel to distribute their work for basically the entire world (which in the past would have required enormous amounts of money.) This has therefore created an outlet for this religion to spread, causing an avalanche effect: The more people read or see about it, the more they will spread the word to others, and so on.

While conspiracy theories resemble in many regards religions, the reason why people believe in them might be slightly different. Most religions appeal to the innate beliefs that people have about their own spirituality (in other words, the instinct that most people have that their consciousness exists independent of their body, that it's separate from it, and that the body is just a conduit that the consciousness uses to interact with the physical world.) They appeal to the worry that people have about what happens to their consciousness when they die.

Conspiracy theories, on the other hand, excite peoples imaginations and their sense of self-importance. They entice people with the prospect of knowing more than others, with being part of a knowledgeable group that's "in the loop" so to speak, that know the innermost secrets of the governments and other organizations they consider shady. It's also a form of pseudointellectualism: It gives them the feeling that they have a special form of knowledge that most other people don't have. On a different tangent, conspiracy theories also appeal to the fear people have of being deceived (which is highly ironic given how deceitful conspiracy theories are.)

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

The two most common excuses for God

Imagine a father who has a child under his care. The father has plenty of food and absolutely no impediment or reason to not take care of his child. Regardless, he just lets the child die of starvation, while simply watching by while the child is withering away, crying and pleading for help. Any sane person would consider this father to be either mentally ill or extremely wicked. Any sane person would certainly agree that this person should be either locked away in a mental institution, or prosecuted for his crime. This is, after all, a perfect example of criminal negligence.

Or imagine another scenario: A father simply watches by while his child is being raped, tortured and beaten to death. The father has no impediment or reason to not interfere and try to help or, at the very least, call a police officer to help. The father sees every gruesome detail of this act, but does nothing to help, not even if his child is asking him directly to help. Again, any sane person would certainly agree that this father is either mentally ill or completely evil, and should be prosecuted appropriately.

A third scenario: A father locks his child in a torture cellar he himself built, and tortures that child for the rest of his life, and the reason he does this is because the child didn't love him enough. Any sane person would again agree that this father is a monster and belongs in a mental institution.

Now consider that according to Christian beliefs, God is doing this all the time: He simply watches people, his own creation, his own "children", starving to death, being raped, tortured and killed, being mutilated by disease and natural catastrophes... and does absolutely nothing to help, even though he's all-powerful and could most certainly do so. Not even if those victims are pleading for help directly from him.

What's worse, not only does God refuse to help those in need, according to Christian theology he will send them to hell to be tortured with indescribable torment for all eternity if they don't love him in the right way.

When you present these problems to Christians, all kinds of excuses will suddenly pop up to defend their god (even if they otherwise would agree with those scenarios I presented above.) It's actually quite ridiculous the lengths to which they are ready to go to defend their own theology.

By far the two most common excuses are "free will" and "Jesus died for us." Yet both of these are complete and absolute non-explanations and make absolutely no sense.

Imagine that the father in the scenarios above is on trial for his crime, and he presents the excuse that he "didn't want to interfere with the rapist's free will." Would any sane person consider that as a valid excuse and exonerate him from his negligence? Of course not. That would be one of the stupidest reasons ever given for not helping those in need.

Or imagine that he presented an excuse like: "But I already helped! I allowed my previous son to die to appease myself, so that my other children would be saved!" Again, any sane person would consider this to be an outright insane argument, and would certainly not absolve the father.

Yet Christians are constantly using these two excuses to absolve their god for his criminal negligence, and they do it with full conviction that these are valid and perfect explanations. And they are so obstinate about them that no matter how you try to point out how nonsensical the explanations are, they will keep repeating them over and over, as if that would somehow make everything alright.

And they have the audacity of claiming that God condemning people to hell for all eternity is the people's fault because it's their "choice." The "it's your choice" argument is one of the most obnoxious ones ever presented. It's basically a sadistic choice. It's exactly the same as if the father told his child "either you love me, or I will torture you in my cellar which I built for that exact purpose, your choice." Again, any sane person would agree that such a person would be a mentally ill monster that should be locked away. Except if he's God, apparently.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Freedom from religion

In the United States, among all the other madness that's going on with regard to Christianity, there's this sentiment going on among some of them that goes like "freedom of religion does not mean freedom from religion."

For a long time I was completely puzzled by this, and I'm not the only one. Are they really saying that religion should be forced onto people and that non-religiousness should be banned?

But then I realized what's going on here. Like with so many other things, they are using a different meaning for the concept of "freedom from religion."

You see, when a secularist uses that term, what he means is that religion must not be forced onto anybody. In other words, they must not be forced to belong to nor submit to any church or religious organization, nor forced to attend their events, nor forced to read their literature and so on. They must have the choice of not belonging to nor professing any religion, and that they should be treated equally before the law completely regardless of their religion or lack of, because that's one of the most basic of human rights and freedoms.

However, when these Christians say that "freedom of religion does not mean freedom from religion" they mean something different: They think that "freedom from religion" means that nobody has to see or hear about religion anywhere, at any time, in any context. They think that it means that religion should be banned from public display, from TV and the rest of the media, and that nobody has the right to show any religious affiliation or symbolism publicly. In other words, they think that "freedom from religion" means "I don't have to see religion anywhere".

Monday, September 16, 2013

What we are "meant" to do

Sometimes apologists and especially creationists use the silliest of arguments against evolution. One of the silliest ones is the classical "if evolution were true, then it would make it ok to kill the weak and it would justify eugenics."

This is exactly as silly as saying something like "if gravity were true, then it would make it ok to push people off of cliffs" or "if fire were indeed that hot, it would make it ok to burn people with it."

Just because a natural phenomenon happens, or has happened, in a certain way, in no way dictates how we should behave. Natural phenomena do not dictate our morals. In fact, much of our cultural evolution has been all about fighting against normal, "natural" events and conquer them.

There's nothing in nature "guiding" us to do anything in a certain way, nor are we "meant to do" anything in particular. We decide how we deal with our reality as we see fit. If we decide that we should not kill people but instead we should take care of each other, no matter how weak or crippled we are, that's what we can and should do. Our evolutionary history does not dictate any of this. Evolution, and physics in general, is just a completely mindless "automatic" process with no purpose, intent or any kind of "higher meaning" behind it. It just happens. We can make of it whatever we can and want.

Some people who accept evolution are nevertheless quite deluded about it. They often argue how we are "meant to do" this or that because of evolution (or because of whatever natural phenomenon.) Or conversely, how we are "not meant to do" whatever.

Again, this is completely silly. Evolution doesn't "mean" us to do anything. It's just a bunch of natural laws acting on matter and energy. It has no purpose or goal, it just happens. We can do whatever we want with it.

The instinct that many people have that attributes some kind of meaning or intent behind natural phenomena is actually quite deeply ingrained and most probably (and perhaps a bit ironically) a result of our evolutionary past. It's closely related to the concept that there's consciousness behind every phenomenon (which is were the old concepts of there being a "god" for every possible thing comes from.)

Back in the distant past if you saw for example some tall grass moving, it would have been more advantageous for your survival to assume that there was a sentient being (eg. a lion) moving the grass than to think that it was something completely inert (eg. just the wind.) If you assumed that it was a lion, you would flee and have a higher chance of survival. Therefore those whose instinct was to attribute all such phenomena to sentience were naturally selected over those who instinctively did not.

I think this is the root where this whole "we are meant or not meant to do" this or that comes from. We attribute meaning, purpose and sentience to things that have nothing of it.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Holy hallucinations

Many people swear that sometimes, especially when they are either falling asleep or just awakening, they have strongly felt that somebody or something is in the room with them, even though they should be alone (or even if they are with somebody, they feel that a third person or something is there.) This often startles them, and when they awaken, it's gone.

Religious and superstitious people attribute this to spirits, ghosts, demons or other supernatural beings. More rational people attribute them to what they really are: Hallucinations.

Hallucinations are much more common than people realize. They usually happen precisely when a person is just falling asleep or about to awaken. They are very closely related to dreaming, and could be quite sensibly be classified as a type of dream. They are normal and they are in no way indication of mental illness or anything of the sort. Most people have experienced them at least a few times during their lifetimes.

Another form, a rather different one, of hallucination is a strong sense of a great epiphany. The sense that something really deep and fundamental suddenly makes complete sense to you, that you suddenly have a clear understanding of something that's extremely mysterious, unknown, or grandiose. This feeling is often described as "being one with the universe" and other similar things. Sometimes it can be related to something much more mundane or personal, perhaps something that one has been thinking about or something about oneself.

Almost invariably, when the person then awakes fully, they can't remember what that great epiphany was. They just remember the feeling, but not the details. They feel that they had a great answer to something, an amazing understanding of it... and then they just forgot what it was.

Again, this is just a form of hallucination. It's not really that the person understood something or got the epiphany; it's simply that they got the strong feeling that they got it, without actually getting anything. It's not like if they could just at that second write it down or tell somebody, they would have gotten something coherent because there really wasn't anything to say. In actuality it was nothing, just a feeling. In a sense, it could be classified as a momentary delusion caused by the hallucination.

These are some of the sources of such claims, and one of the reasons why some people believe in the supernatural, in having some kind of supernatural senses or powers, or being "connected" to something superior or supernatural.

In reality it's just their own brains playing tricks on them, and them interpreting it as something it wasn't. (As said, this is not indication of mental illness or anything of the sorts. It just happens and it's normal. One should simply realize what they are and take them as such.)

Friday, September 6, 2013

Generalization of credibility

There's a very simple concept that nobody should have any difficulty in accepting: Just because a writing mentions some things that are demonstrably factual, that doesn't automatically mean that everything that's written there is factual.

There's absolutely nothing controversial or strange about this, and it should be quite easy to accept. A work of fiction is the most prominent example: Many works of fiction talk about real places and real events, yet also talk about completely fictional people, events and places. For example, if a book talks about real cities like London or New York, that doesn't give any kind of credibility to what the same book says about, for example, vampires or werewolves.

This is such a simple concept that even a small child ought to understand it. Yet many Christians seem completely incapable of this.

When asked how can we know that what the Bible says is true, they will almost invariable resort to pointing out the few parts of it that are easy to accept. They will point out how, for example, archaeology confirms many of the events and places depicted in the Bible. They will point out things that the Bible says that happen to be true (a good example is the concept of washing hands helping to prevent diseases from spreading.)

For some reason they seem to be incapable of understand the simple concept that simply because a book talks about real places and real events, that doesn't mean that everything that the book claims is true. Yet they use this argument all the time.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Lying as a second nature

It's quite well known among skeptics how much apologists, especially young-earth creationists, lie and how hypocritical they are about it (in other words, while still feigning honesty and sincerity.) However, I got a kind of epiphany of how deeply-ingrained this is in them during a lengthy email conversation with some young-earth creationists recently.

Most apologists, and especially most young-earth creationists, have been brainwashed – and have brainwashed themselves – so thoroughly and so deeply that distorting, misrepresenting, misleading, hiding facts, fabricating facts, rationalizing and outright lying is like a second nature to them. They are so brainwashed into it that they do it willfully and purposefully, yet they still don't realize they are doing it, and convince themselves (besides trying to convince others) that they are being honest, sincere and truthful.

Just as a small example, one of many, quote mining is a very common practice among them, and one which dishonesty is very easy to understand and see. It doesn't require much intelligence and thinking to understand why quote-mining, for example, a big critic of creationism and proponent of the theory of evolution to make him or her sound like they are either supporting creationism or attacking evolution, is quite dishonest.

Even if you heard such a person say something that seemingly goes against everything else they have said previously and afterward, the proper reaction that would show honesty and intellectual integrity would be to ask "what did he mean by that? Am I missing something? Is this perhaps taken out of context? What else did he say in this situation?" In other words, the honest reaction would be to try to find out if they really meant what they seemingly said, or whether it was something else, in order to avoid misrepresenting what that person really thinks.

But that's not how the creationist mindset works. Any utterance, no matter how out-of-context, no matter how disjoint from everything else that person has said, is good enough for them. It doesn't matter what that person really thinks or what they really mean. If it can be used as a weapon against that person in particular and the opposing view in general, it will be used.

While at the same time claiming that sincerity, honesty and integrity are core virtues of Christianity.

And the sad thing is that they don't even see themselves what they are doing. Even if there's a small voice in their mind that says to them something like "hey, perhaps this is not the most honest thing to do", they quiet it and don't listen to it. They don't want to think about it, and subconsciously they maintain a mentality that the end justifies the means, even if it means distorting what others have said (even though they wouldn't admit that even to themselves at a very conscious level.)

They have become so used to this via years of practice and "training" that they have become masters at deceiving themselves. They truly think that they are being sincere, while being blatantly and obviously the opposite.

This is what religion does to people. It distorts their personality, behavior and morality. It makes them do morally condemnable things while still thinking that they are morally pure and superior.

If the god of Christianity really existed, and if he were such a perfect being, I'm sure that he would be shaking his head in sadness seeing these people acting in this way in his name. Even Christians should be ashamed of creationists (even though, sadly, most of them aren't, mostly because of ignorance or a deluded sense of camaraderie and duty towards their "fellow believers.")

There are actually some atheists who were Christians in the past and who started to doubt and to find out how things really work mostly due to being fed up with young-earth creationists. (Many young-earth creationists actually try to "convert" so-called old-earth creationists into becoming young-earth ones, and to some Christians that can be a real eye-opener, but in the opposite direction than the creationists expected.)

Monday, August 26, 2013

Even a blind squirrel...

One of the most misguided and silliest notions that some creationists have about the theory of evolution is that if it's true, we should find all kinds of chimeric animals that are a mishmash of parts of unrelated species. While the "crocoduck" is by far the most infamous example, creationists have ridiculed evolution with numerous others (such as a bird with a lizard's head or a buffalo with wings...)

They are, of course, attacking a straw man here. Something that the theory of evolution in no way predicts. (In fact, if such a chimeric animal were to be found, it would seriously question the theory of evolution and give more credence to the possibility of animals having been made as they are via some other, completely different mechanism.)

However, even a blind squirrel finds a nut once in a while, as the saying goes. One of those "ridiculous" chimera that some creationists have sometimes presented to mock the theory of evolution is a fish with legs. There are even some such pictures made where the legs are pretty short, resembling those of a small reptile.

Well, what do you know. In this particular instance this actually is something the current scientific understanding of the evolutionary history of life on Earth has predicted: Fish with some kind of proto-legs that could crawl on land. For once the creationists understood something about evolution correctly (even if it wasn't really the result of actually studying the subject.)

And what do you know, years after the first of those caricatures had been made, fossils of fish with proto-legs have been found. Morphological and anatomical analysis of these limbs strongly suggests that they were indeed used for crawling on land. They also are morphologically similar to modern tetrapod limbs (ie. with similar bone structure), giving strong evidence for the evolutionary history of land tetrapods from fish.

For once creationists got one of the "if evolution is right, then we should find one of these" claims right. And we have found them, thank you very much.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Josh McDowell and the anthill

In the book The New Evidence that demands a verdict, its author, Josh McDowell tries to explain why it was necessary for God to be born as a human. He does this by writing a metaphor:
"One reason would be to communicate with us more effectively. Imagine you are watching a farmer plow a field. You notice that an ant hill will be plowed under by the farmer on his next time around. Because you love ants, you run to the ant hill to warn its tiny inhabitants. First you shout to them the impending danger, but they continue their work. You then try many other form of communication, but nothing seems to get through to the imperiled ants. You soon realize that the only way you can really reach them is by becoming one of them."
This is one of the worst metaphors for anything that I have ever seen. There are quite many things horribly wrong with it.
  1. According to Christian theology, including the one that McDowell himself accepts, God created everything. In terms of this metaphor, that means that this person shouting the warnings is the one who created the ant hill, the field, the plough and the farmer. Moreover, this person knew perfectly well in advance what would happen when he created those things. Therefore it's fully and completely God's own fault that this is happening.
  2. If "God" here wanted to save the ants, the rational thing to do would be, rather obviously, to stop the farmer. This especially so because "God" had created the farmer and the plough in the first place...
  3. This metaphor is painting God as limited and impotent. It seems to be saying that God cannot stop the farmer and the plowing, that it's completely out of his influence and authority, something that he cannot do anything about. He cannot even do as much as take the ant hill and move it somewhere else. The only thing that God is able to do is go to the ant hill and shout at it. This goes blatantly against the concept of an omnipotent god in Christian theology.
  4. It likewise paints God as limited because he's completely unable to directly communicate with the ants. This not only goes against Christian theology about God's omnipotence, but it also directly contradicts the Bible, given that it contains numerous instances of God directly communicating with people. The metaphor seems to be saying that God cannot communicate directly with us (for whatever reason), even though that's very clearly not the case in the Bible.
  5. The man (who should be omnipotent) becoming an ant is most certainly not the most effective way of communication. Direct communication, which the god described in the Bible is perfectly capable of doing, would be a lot more efficient. Him becoming one of the ants and preaching to them the impending disaster is actually one of the least effective ways of getting the message through that one can think of. It's more or less guaranteed that a significant portion of the population will never even hear the message, and even from those who do, a significant portion won't believe it. Direct communication would be a lot more convincing and effective.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Kalam Cosmological Argument video

The YouTube channel 'drcraigvideos' presents most of the arguments made by William Lane Craig. I do not know if he personally endorses or approves these videos, but I think that at the very least it's not his own personal YouTube channel.

Anyway, I thought of looking at this video and see how many argumentative fallacies I could spot.

Ironically, the fallacies start even before the actual argument is presented:

"Does God exist, or is the material universe all that is, or ever was, or ever will be?"
We start with a false dichotomy. Those are not the only options, you know.

Another subtler fallacy here is begging the question: It already assumes many things about the "God" option without giving any reasoning for them.
"Is the first premise true? Let's consider: Believing that something can pop into existence without a cause is more of a stretch than believing in magic. At least with magic you've got a hat and a magician."
Actually no, because now you have two things (the universe and the magician) whose existence require explanation rather than just one (the universe.)

This also falls into a false dichotomy because no third option is even presented as an alternative. Also because "I don't know" isn't considered a valid alternative (the video implies that one has to either believe that something or someone created the universe, or it popped into existence from nothing; the option of "I don't know" isn't presented as a valid position at all.)
"And if something can come from nothing, then why don't we see this happening all the time?"
Completely inconsequential argument. The rarity of the event is no indication of its existence of non-existence. (Also, us not "seeing" said event doesn't mean it's not happening all the time either. It may be happening all the time somewhere outside of our reach.) One would have to somehow demonstrate that it cannot happen before one can conclusively say it cannot happen. "We don't see it" is not enough to jump to this conclusion. (After all, we don't see God either, yet no apologist would accept this as a valid argument for God's non-existence.)

Incidentally, so-called virtual particle pairs may be appearing from nothing (and then disappearing) all the time. Craig rejects the validity of this based solely on principle (rather than science.)
"Everyday experience and scientific evidence confirm our first premise."
No, they don't. The first premise is that everything that begins to exist has a cause. We have exactly zero experience about things that begin to exist (in other words, first there is nothing, and then something begins to exist there.) The narrator herself said exactly this in her previous sentence. This is an outright contradiction and a completely false deduction.

(Craig himself responds to this counter-argument by resorting to a blatant fallacy of equivocation. The first premise of the Kalam argument is that if something was non-existent and then begins to exist, it must have a cause. When responding to this counter-argument, however, Craig switches to a different meaning of "begin to exist". He doesn't use the meaning of "first there's nothing, then something appear", but the meaning of "matter and energy transforms from one form to another". He tries to defend the former meaning by arguing using the latter meaning. He is extremely deceptive with this, because then he goes on to defend the second premise, which is that first there was no universe, and then it began to exist.)
"Did the Universe begin, or has it always existed?"
Here the narrator is pushing against an open door, so to speak. Most scientists, skeptics and atheists have no problem in accepting the notion that our universe, as it is now, had a beginning. The narrator goes on to argue why we should accept that. We already do, so it's rather irrelevant.

However, the narrator succumbs to more deceptive tactics by making it sound like skeptics and atheists are arguing that the Universe has always existed. In other words, she makes it sound like this is the only counter-argument that skeptics have. This is a straw-man.

(The actual correct answer is: "We don't know." It's accepted that the universe, in its current form, started from a singularity. Where that singularity came from or what it properties were before it expanded, or whether it appeared or something else, is an unknown. We cannot deduce anything from an unknown.)
"It's quite plausible, then, that both premises of the argument are true. This means that the conclusion is also true."
This is just outright faulty logic. You cannot jump from "the premises are plausible" to "the conclusion is true." Even if we accepted the premises as plausible, the proper deduction would be that the conclusion is also plausible, not that it's true.
"And since the Universe cannot cause itself, its cause must be beyond the space-time Universe. It must be spaceless, timeless, immaterial, uncaused and unimaginably powerful."
Says who? This is just full of faulty logic.

Even if we accepted the entire argument, those things do certainly not necessarily follow. Even if the existence of this universe had a cause, we do not know what that cause was or what its characteristics were. For all we know it could have been another universe, which would have certainly not been "spaceless, timeless, immaterial or uncaused." This hypothetical cause could have had any combination of those listed properties, or none at all.

The counter-argument to this is that this would only shift the need for the origin to that other thing, because that other thing would also had had a finite lifespan. However, the argument, as presented, is speaking about the cause of this universe in which we live. It argues that the cause for this universe of ours is "spaceless, timeless" and so on.

There's absolutely nothing in the argument (even if we accepted it as valid) or anything else that would forbid the cause for this universe to be itself finite and caused.
"Much like God."
This commits a bunch of fallacies in one, and is extremely typical

Fallacy of the undistributed middle: "The cause is timeless, spaceless, etc. God is timeless, spaceless, etc. Therefore God is the cause." Even if there was a cause, and even if the cause had those properties, and even if God existed and had those same properties, it still doesn't follow that God is the cause.

Begging the question: The argument simply makes the presupposition that God exists, and that he has these properties. It doesn't even attempt to justify those claims. Even if there was a cause (which in itself has not been established), it may have absolutely nothing to do with this hypothetical god.

Fallacy of the single cause: It assumes a single cause, or single source, for the existence of the Universe. The argument doesn't even try to make this conclusion. There's absolutely nothing that would rule out multiple causes, chains of causes, or any combination thereof.

Monday, August 5, 2013

A prediction

Let me write here a prediction for the future:

In less than 50 years from now, a slavery denial movement will raise in the United States.

This will be a significant amount of people who either deny completely that slavery ever existed in the United States, or at the very least will claim that it is extremely exaggerated and that the real situation was not even nearly as bad (in other words, the "slaves" weren't slaves at all; they were just immigrant paid workers who were completely free and treated like anybody else, and at most had signed contracts with their employers that they had to fulfill.)

They will use all the same old tactics as every other denialist and conspiracy theorist has used.

I cannot predict how popular it will become, but it will most probably a relatively fringe movement, comparable to the holocaust denialists (although there's a real possibility that it will become larger due to Christians having an interest in such a thing.) Nevertheless, it will be a real denialist movement with all the crap that will become with it (websites, books, "documentaries", TV celebrities endorsing it, and so on.)

Friday, August 2, 2013

Why the creationists' statistics don't work

Creationists love to spout completely made-up numbers to show how "impossible" it was for life to appear on its own (or whatever else they are trying to prove.) In some cases there might be some semblance of actual estimation, but the problem even in these cases is that they make completely wrong assumptions.

For example, they may ask "what's the probability that all the atoms needed to form a single DNA molecule just happened to be in the right place at the right time?" Then they make up some figure.

The major problem here is, of course, that they assume that the original DNA molecule formed instantaneously, rather than it having been a very gradual process of "proto-DNAs" changing over time. However, an even more fundamental problem with this is that they assume that atoms just float around randomly, with no natural processes affecting them, and thus they coming together is just pure chance.

Even an elementary school textbook will tell you that atoms don't just float around without anything affecting them. They interact with each other, they attract or repel each other, they form atomic bonds, they form ionic bonds... There are all kinds of physical phenomena affecting how they interact and combine. For instance, two oxygen atoms making a bond and forming an O2 molecule is far from being a "random chance." There are physical phenomena that affect them and make this formation very likely.

To illustrate, suppose we simplify the problem a bit and ask the question: "What's the probability that two oxygen atoms and one carbon atom just happen to come together and form a carbon dioxide molecule?" If we do what creationists do, we just ignore all the natural laws governing their behavior, and simply estimate how many oxygen and carbon atoms there are on Earth, what the size of the Earth is, and from that come up with a number that tells us how likely it is for three of them to just happen to be close enough together to form a CO2 molecule. I haven't even attempted to do this calculation because it's an exercise in futility, but I wouldn't be surprised that it's like one in millions, or even trillions.

If we took that at face value we would have to conclude that the formation of CO2 is so incredibly small that there should exist none on Earth. Yet there is a lot of it.

The reason why there is a lot of it is because CO2 doesn't just form by "random chance", by three certain atoms just happening by chance to be in the right place at the right time. There are natural processes, well understood ones, that cause CO2 to form. (For example, up to 40% of the gas emitted by some volcanoes during subaerial eruptions is carbon dioxide. And we understand the reasons for this.)

Granted, the formation of organic molecules is much more complex and a significantly rarer occurrence. However, it didn't hapen "purely by chance." There are natural phenomena affecting how atoms and molecules interact with each other.

Friday, July 26, 2013

"What do you believe in?"

There's a question that some believers, apologists and the proponents of some kind of New Age movement present to a skeptic that can catch him or her by surprise: "What do you believe in?"

This is such a loaded question that it could even be considered a trick question. A question perfectly crafted to trick the skeptic into giving a rushed answer that's easy to attack and belittle. If they answer something like "I don't believe anything" they will sound depressed and anti-social, which is precisely one of the responses the believer is hoping for. If you try to alleviate it with something like "I try to not just believe in things" they will attack with the old tired "so you do believe in something." Also an answer like "I don't know" will be taken as admitting defeat.

An experienced skeptic should be prepared for this exact question, because it comes up so often, yet surprisingly few skeptics are really prepared for it. The answer of an unsuspecting skeptic is way too easy to make into a straw man that's easy to attack.

This is an answer that I could give to that question.

Well, that's a rather philosophical question, isn't it? If you want a philosophical answer, then I would say that I believe that most of what I perceive with my senses corresponds to reality, in other words, things that really exist, independent of my thoughts. And of course I don't mean that all of my perceptions correspond to reality. However, I believe that most of them do.

In this case I am using the word "believe" in the sense of making an assumption, something that I just have to take for granted without further justification. Another thing that I just have to believe is that it's possible to discern what's part of reality and what isn't, by using my senses and rational thinking. These are about the only things that I believe in such manner, or at least I try to.

One way to attest the veracity of something with a very high degree of certainty is if it behaves in a consistent manner, and behaves in the same way for everybody and everything. Real things tend to behave extremely consistently, and do so for everybody and everything, while imaginary things don't. And by "everything" I mean, for example, measurement devices.

In other words, the only thing that I just have to trust is that my senses can perceive, for example, the readings of a measurement device correctly. Beyond that, I try to believe (ie. just outright take things for granted) as little as possible.

Thursday, July 25, 2013


Some creationists seem to be strangely infatuated with the story of the biblical flood. (Among the most known ones are Ian Juby and John Pendleton, among many others.)

Their obsession with the flood story goes beyond just believing it to be true. According to them, almost everything was apparently created by the flood. The Grand Canyon? The flood, of course. Fossils? The flood. Mosquitos trapped in amber? Flood. Dinosaur footprints? They were running from the flood, and the flood preserved the footprints. Some dinosaur species laying eggs in rows? The flood caused that. A handprint that appears to be human? Yes, also the flood.

I'm not exaggerating the slightest bit here. These are exactly the things they are claiming. Yes, including the thing about a dinosaur species laying eggs in rows because of the flood.

I find this infatuation with the flood story quite amusing, really. It's like a flood mania. Basically everything that's old was created by the flood.

In fact, it seems like the flood is more a god to them than the Christian god himself.

Misguided proofs of the veracity of the New Testament

Many big-name apologists attempt to demonstrate the historical accuracy of the New Testament (up to the point of claiming that every single thing described there is a completely accurate depiction of real events) by using techniques that might superficially resemble academically sound approaches, but are often outright ridiculous.

For example, miles and miles of text has been written trying to demonstrate how the New Testament writings that we have today are exactly the same as the original ones that were written. While there are very good reasons to believe that at least some parts of the New Testament, especially the Gospels, have been added later, this is nevertheless a completely inconsequential argument. It doesn't matter if the text is the unmodified original one. That doesn't give any credence to the veracity of what the text is actually saying. This is like arguing that Homer's Iliad depicts true events if we can demonstrate that the text we have today is the same as the original.

Another argument that these apologists try to hammer in is the claim that the text was written either by direct eyewitnesses or by people who had contact with direct eyewitnesses. No serious historian scholar today, Christian or secular, has any doubt whatsoever that the Gospels were not written by their alleged authors. There's no doubt that they were written by unknown authors at least half a century after the alleged events, and that they were most certainly not any kind of direct eyewitnesses of any such alleged events. There's also no doubt that the books of Luke and Matthew were inspired by, and variations of the book of Mark. Even many Christian scholars acknowledge this (even some of those who try adamantly to prove the veracity of the text as historical fact.) Nevertheless, this is also an inconsequential argument: Even if the Gospels had been written by eyewitnesses of a person who was the basis of the character of Jesus, there's absolutely nothing that would have stopped them from adding their own embellishments. (There are many known instances of exactly this kind of thing from even recent history, so it's in no way an inconceivable thing.)

One of the most ridiculous arguments that is presented in complete seriousness is the alleged vast amount of eyewitnesses to all of the events depicted in the Gospels and the other books of the New Testament. This is a ridiculous argument because the only source we have for the existence of these eyewitnesses is the New Testament itself. In other words, this is a circular argument: Trying to prove the New Testament as accurate using the New Testament itself. Trying to claim that it's accurate because of the vast amount of eyewitnesses, and the existence of said eyewitnesses is true because the New Testament says they existed. (And this isn't even going into the fact that even today it's easy to find thousands of alleged "eyewitnesses" to events that have demonstrably not happened. Group psychology can be a very strong phenomenon.)

One of the most fallacious arguments is trying to prove the historical accuracy of the New Testament by pointing out that some of its depictions are known to have happened with almost complete certainty (such as certain rulers having really existed.) This commits the fallacy of thinking that if some events are depicted accurately, that gives credence to the claim that all of the events described are true also. This is a ridiculous idea. It's like saying that since Homer's Iliad describes real cities, all of its events are therefore historically accurate.

The major problem with that is that apologists spend tons and tons of resources to try to prove mundane details about the Gospels as accurate, when those are mostly inconsequential and are not the things that skeptics have problems with. Whether this or that city really existed, or whether this or that person really existed doesn't really matter. Those things in no way attest to the veracity of the extraordinary claims made in the text. It's perfectly possible to write a fictional narrative to happen in real settings. We do this all the time.

Extra-biblical sources are also always brought up. This is highly deceptive because every single extra-biblical source that we know exists only mentions the existence of Christians, and none of them describe the events depicted in the Gospels. Nobody doubts that Christians existed in the first century; that's not the question. These extra-biblical sources are a very good argument for this. However, apologists are trying to go much further than that.

Perhaps the most ridiculous argument that apologists bring up completely seriously is the "empty tomb" argument. They say that because Jesus' tomb was demonstrably empty, that proves that Jesus rose from the dead. Yet the only source we have that such a tomb even existed is the very document that they are trying to prove as true. Again, this is a completely circular argument.

Apologists will also spent miles and miles of text to fight against alternative explanations for the empty tomb, as if that had any relevance whatsoever. They can't even establish in any credible way that there was any such tomb to begin with. (They will once again resort to the eyewitnesses argument, which is once again a circular argument.)

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Lying for Jesus, part 2

Ian Juby is a young-earth creationists I have not mentioned previously in this blog. He is somewhat of a celebrity, especially on YouTube, and he's especially infamous for the blatant lies and distortions about science and evolution.

There would be hundreds and hundreds of examples of his lies, but I thought I would mention one in which he resorts to quite blatant quote mining.

In one of his videos he quotes Dr. Louis Jacobs, a doctor of paleontology, and his book Quest for the African Dinosaur like this:
"co-occurrence of men and dinosaurs ... would dispel an earth with vast antiquity. The entire history of creation, including the day of rest, could be accommodated in the seven biblical days of the Genesis myth. Evolution would be vanquished."
Jacobs seems to be making an admission here that humans living contemporaneously with dinosaurs would confirm the Genesis story of creation.

However, attentive viewers should become suspicious when they notice that this is a very partial quote: It starts with a lowercase letter (indicating that it's not, in fact, a full sentence) and it has an ellipsis, indicating that something has been left out. While one could commend Juby for this kind of academic honesty (ie. he didn't technically try to hide the fact that this is only a partial quote), it's still extremely dishonest: When quoting, parts should be left out for the sake of brevity only when doing so does not alter the meaning of what is being said. If leaving parts out changes the meaning or the spirit of what was said, that's extremely dishonest, especially when done to drive an specific agenda.

When we see the full paragraph, the meaning of the original text is quite different:
"There is a very simple reason why creationists cling to the Glen Rose footprints and insist on the co-occurrence of men and dinosaurs: Such an association would dispel the necessity of an Earth with vast antiquity. The entire history of creation, including the day of rest, could be accommodated in the seven biblical days of the Genesis myth. Evolution would be vanquished."
What Jacobs is doing here is explaining why creationists are so eager to defend the Glen Rose footprints, even though they are easily demonstrated as fakes: Because they would provide an argument to defend the biblical stories. Jacobs is not admitting that the biblical stories would become believable if men co-existed with dinosaurs; rather, he's explaining why creationists defend the idea, ie. what they think would be the consequence of that.

This becomes even clearer in the broader context of the book, ie. the other paragraphs surrounding this one, and the rest of the book.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Lying for Jesus

A student pastor named Aaron Buer has written a relatively infamous blog post about sex, and why it should be reserved for marriage. Among other things, he writes:
"I have never met anyone who is actually happy about having sex before they were married. All I’ve ever seen and heard is massive regret."
Many people started adding comments to the post telling about their their lives, and how they have not had any problems with premarital sex, with no regret.

What did this Christian pastor, who like other Christians should hold honesty and truth as one of the basic pillars of their faith, do with these comments? Did he perhaps edit the post or apologize?

No, he removed all those comments and disabled further comments. The blog post is still unmodified.

In other words, student pastor Aaron Buer is lying through his teeth: He is still claiming that he has never met anyone who wouldn't have regretted premarital sex, even though that's demonstrably untrue.

I find it amazing how so many Christians seem to so blatantly think that the end justifies the means (ie. going against one of their most basic core principles in order to promote their world view), yet still deny thinking like that, probably even to themselves.

Monday, July 22, 2013

The meaning of "faith"

One of the most common forms of playing with words, committing a fallacy of equivocation, is when creationists use the word "faith." They will argue that "scientists/evolutionists have faith too", trying to put every kind of "faith" at the same level, giving credence to all of them. (Basically, they want to lower science/evolution to the same philosophical level as creationism and theism. They want to give the impression that they are all valid choices that one could make.)

The word "faith" is an extremely loaded word, and mixing its different meanings up is extremely dishonest. The word can have many meanings, such as:
  1. Belief (without evidence): You simply believe in something (often the existence of something) for which there is no valid evidence and has not been demonstrated. God, UFOs, psychic powers, astrology... they all fall under this category.
  2. Trust (in a person): The confidence that a person (eg. a spouse) will not betray, harm or otherwise act in a hurting manner, or will always act with your best interest in mind.
  3. Confidence: Things that you are certain of based on evidence and experience, in other words, things that you don't question anymore because you have complete confidence that they work in a certain way or have certain characteristics.
  4. Induction: Closely related to confidence (if not even a subset of it.) This is when you can make predictions based on evidence and experience, and you can have extreme certainty that your prediction will be very close to correct. (For example, calculating how long it will take for a stone to fall from a certain altitude to the ground.)
Especially creationists want to collate all the different meanings of the word into one. The most egregious of them even want to equate the first meaning above with the second one (a common gimmick of eg. Ray Comfort.)

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Does life have meaning and purpose?

Many Christians will argue that without God there is no meaning nor purpose to life. I think this is mostly a scare tactic for other believers, rather than it being even an attempt to convince non-believers. (It's a scare-tactic in the form of "if you ever stop believing, your life will stop having any meaning and purpose, you will become just an empty shell of your former self, and you will probably fall into depression, crime, drugs or worse, so don't even consider it!")

No skeptic/atheist has any problem in finding meaning and purpose to their and other people's lives (perhaps those with clinical depression notwithstanding, but that's a completely different reason.) Let me posit this reasoning in a slightly more philosophical manner than usual.

Ideas can be a very strong and influential phenomenon. Ideas can be "contagious", they can "live on" so to speak, by transferring from one person to another. Ideas can change lives, for better or for worse. Ideas can improve people's lives, advance our culture and understanding, drive progress. On the other side of the coin, ideas can delude people, drive them to believe and do foolish things, to behave in all kinds of irrational ways that can be even harmful both to themselves and those around them. Some of these ideas can be extremely persistent and effectively "refuse to die", no matter how hard killing them is attempted. These are often alluded to as "viruses of the mind." Many people say that, for example, religions are such viruses of the mind.

Comparing these strong and widespread ideas to viruses is quite fitting. Like viruses, also these ideas change over time and fight for survival. The strongest, most "contagious" ideas will override the weaker ones. Any changes to these ideas that make them even stronger are retained, while changes that make them weaker tend to be dropped off. This is natural selection in action, on the level of ideas.

People can produce and have effect on these ideas, both the good and the bad ones. A person's actions can affect other people, and the repercussions of these actions can last for much longer than that person's lifetime.

It is thus not at all inconsequential what we do with our lives. Our actions and our ideas can help people, or they can hurt people, and the effects can potentially last for surprisingly long times.

Thus we can clearly see that even a full-fledged atheist can have a clear and important goal and purpose to his or her life: To make the world a better place through their actions and ideas. To have their ideas matter.

It is often said that the deceased live on in the memories of their friends and relatives. This is more than just a poetic idea. This can be a real, concrete effect that truly affects people's lives, sometimes for very long time after death.

Friday, July 19, 2013

The Bible vs. Euclid's Elements

Many apologists claim that the Bible contains many scientific insights that were clearly "divinely inspired", and this clearly shows its divine authorship. Yet when you look at these alleged "scientific" passages, they are always extremely vague and open to interpretation, usually requiring really wild stretching to fit them into some modern scientific fact. Also, none of these alleged "scientific insights" has ever helped science to progress and to make new discoveries and understand how the world really works.

Some apologists might argue that the poetic nature of those passages is simply because of the limited language of those times.

However, it's not like we don't have anything that we could compare to. Take for example Euclid's Elements, which is a series of books written in about 300 BC. Very much unlike these biblical passages, these books are stock full of clear, unambiguous and accurate definitions and mathematically correct postulations and proofs, all of which is written in an amazingly clear and understandable manner. More importantly, it's written in a manner that has actually helped science in its progress and its understanding. Most of what is written in Elements is as factual and accurate today as it was 2300 years ago, and is unambiguously so, with no need for wild interpretation. Quite clearly the author or authors knew exactly what they were writing.

This is a wonderful demonstration that even with the written language of 2300 years ago it was perfectly possible to write in a clear and accurate manner, and to present scientific facts unambiguously and clearly, facts that have actually helped humanity.

The Bible fails miserably in all possible counts.

Lack of "attribution criticism"

I don't know if there exists an actual term for this, so I decided to term it "attribution criticism." Most people lack the capacity of doing it with certain things.

Many people automatically attribute certain phenomena to certain causes, with no corroborating evidence or testing. For example, alleged miracles are automatically attributed to a god. Even if miracles did happen, on what basis can they be attributed to a god?

Likewise, for instance, many believers will tell you things like "ask God to reveal himself to you, and he will." Again, even if you did that, and even if you strongly felt something, on what basis can you attribute that feeling to the doings of a god? Couldn't it just as well (and in fact more probably) be something a lot more mundane?

Most people simply lack a healthy attribution criticism. They seem incapable of asking themselves the question "how exactly do I know that this phenomenon comes from that alleged source, and not something else entirely?" The alternative source doesn't necessarily even have to be a natural cause. Even a hypothetical supernatural cause, but completely different from the alleged one, is always a possibility (no matter how unlikely, compared to a natural cause.)

At its core, spuriously attributing a phenomenon to a source without any kind of corroborating evidence is just an argument from ignorance.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Christians are not afraid to teach evolution?

It has become a relatively popular argument among creationists and the "intelligent design" movement (there's no difference, really) to claim that scientists want to brainwash children by teaching only evolution in schools and that they are afraid to teach any alternatives, like creationism. Likewise they say that Christians have no problem whatsoever nor are afraid to teach evolution alongside creationism. (For example, Ken Ham is one of the most prominent figures who likes to make this claim.)

However, like everything else, also this is a blatant lie (even though most of those creationists probably don't even realize it at a conscious level.)

In fact, these creationists are afraid to teach what the theory of evolution really says and what exactly its claims are. Creationists are not afraid to teach their own interpretation of evolution, which is most often just a caricature and a straw man. Or, at the very least, they have to make sure to append every single claim with a refutation that they have come up with (and of course ignoring the scientific responses to said refutation.) They can never teach evolutionary theory in an academically and scientifically accurate manner without bias, without their own distortions, caricatures or made-up objections that make sure to "poison the well" (as per the argumentative fallacy with that name.)

Creationists are very much afraid to teach evolution as it is.

Unlike they claim, scientists are not afraid of creationism or teaching it. It's just that its place is not in science class, because creationism is not science (no matter how much creationists claim it to be.) Creationism is not science because it's not testable, verifiable nor, most importantly, falsifiable. The theory of evolution is (again, no matter how much creationists claim that it isn't.) And not only is evolutionary theory testable and verifiable, there exists enormous amounts of experimental results that support it.

Evolutionary theory is the scientific consensus, and for very good reasons, and that's why it belongs to science class, and creationism doesn't. It's not a question of "being afraid."

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Jesus died for our sins?

If you would have to choose one single core tenet of Christianity, the most important one, Christians would often choose "Jesus died for our sins" (or something to that effect.)

My answer to that? "No, he didn't."

One of the basic tenets and core beliefs of Christianity is that Jesus is not dead, he is alive and well, and even has his own human body (albeit in some kind of ascended form.)

What exactly did Jesus give up in order to "save" us? What was the great loss? What was the great price that he had to pay? Absolutely nothing. And this is not me saying that. It's what Christianity itself teaches.

And that's not even going into the crazy reason why he had to suffer and die, which makes no sense whatsoever. Just the mere fact that Jesus did not, in fact, have to pay anything at all to "save" us is nonsensical in itself.

Some could argue that the suffering itself was the price. Even setting aside that it makes no sense, Jesus himself knew that the suffering would be temporary and that he would be just fine afterwards.

It would actually make more sense if Jesus had been sent to Hell for all eternity, to suffer for our sins there. Then it would have been a true loss: God would have lost his own son, God would have had to give up part of his very self, to suffer indescribable torment and agony for all eternity, with absolutely no possibility of return or end of the suffering.

The story and the theology would actually make more sense that way. That way there would at least be some rationale behind the sacrifice.

(Naturally this wouldn't solve any of the other problems that still exist with Christian theology, such as why did God create Hell in the first place, or why does he send his own creation there to suffer for eternity, and how he can be so cruel. But at least this way Christian theology would be at least slightly less nonsensical.)

Sunday, July 14, 2013

"Problems" of evolution, which aren't

Many creationists like to take some lesser-known or lesser-understood (by the general public) details, or recent discoveries, related to the theory of evolution, and spin them around and claim how they challenge the theory and are evidence against it, when in fact there's absolutely nothing problematic or controversial about them, they conform perfectly to the theory, and in some cases may even be the opposite, ie. they confirm the predictions of the theory. However, the creationists' typical target audience is too lazy or ignorant to check the facts for themselves, so they get the impression that new discoveries are indeed disputing the veracity of the theory.

One of the most commonly used ones is the theory of punctuated equilibrium. Most typically the creationists either don't understand what it's saying, or are deliberately distorting it into a straw man. Even in the few cases where the creationists' description is relatively accurate they still manage to make it sound like it disputes the evolutionary theory, when in fact it does nothing of the sort.

In short, what the punctuated equilibrium hypothesis is positing is that when the environment's selection pressure is very high (usually due to a radical change in the environment, either because a group of animals moved to another location, or because of changes in climate, or a natural disaster), it may cause species to evolve relatively rapidly (compared to their usual rate of evolution.) In other words, it may happen that changes that normally may take tens or hundreds of thousands of generations might take just a few hundreds, or such. This relatively rapid rate of evolution can cause apparent jumps in the fossil record (because, after all, only a very small portion of all living beings get ever fossilized; fossilization is a very rare event.)

There's absolutely nothing strange, outrageous or revolutionary about this hypothesis. It's completely in concordance with the theory of evolution, and it's backed up by tons of evidence. Evolutionary biologists have zero problems with this, much unlike creationists claim.

Another aspect of evolution that's sometimes used as a straw man by creationists is parallel evolution. What this means is that two completely distinct and unrelated species ("unrelated" meaning that their most recent common ancestor is extremely far removed in their evolutionary tree, possibly even millions of years) may independently evolve strikingly similar characteristics.

There's nothing strange about this either. To understand why it's not something unexpected, let's take a simple example: Two completely unrelated species of mammals may both evolve very thick fur if both live in a very cold environment. If their body shapes where somewhat similar to begin with, they may end up looking similar overall after they get thick fur, even though they do not have any kind of recent common ancestor. There's nothing strange in this, and this is completely in accordance with, and predicted by, the theory of evolution.

There are rare cases where two species independently evolve a similar-looking and quite peculiar and unique feature. This feature might be so unique and unusual that at first it might appear to be strange that they just happened to get it independently. However, like with the fur example, there usually is a reason behind it. This happens quite rarely and it may be unusual, but it's nothing strange nor does it challenge the theory of evolution in any way.

Although this example is from geology, not from biology, creationists always collate the two things. (After all, to a creationist "evolution" encompasses the vast majority of natural sciences. They can't even agree on a clear definition.) When looking at the so-called geologic column at some place where it's visible (eg. on canyon walls etc), oftentimes layers of entire eras are missing. Of course evolutionists take this to mean that the entire concept of "geologic column" is just a fraud.

To a geologist this isn't anything strange, and any competent geology textbook will explain this. The reason why some layers may be missing at some places is because of erosion. What happens is that the height of the ground is usually not static, but ground level may raise and lower over thousands and millions of years. When a large area of ground raises due to geological events, its top layers may start suffering from erosion (basically, wind and rainwater erode its top layers away.) When that area lowers again in the future, it may start once again accumulating new layers. This causes jumps in the layer structure, hence the "missing layers."

What creationists fail to mention is that the layers that are not missing are always found in the same relative order. They also fail to mention that usually if you traverse eg. the canyon further, there usually comes a point where the missing layers start appearing (and other layers may start disappearing.) This is all due to erosion during the geologic history of the place.

Of course creationists deliberately ignore and dismiss all this, because it doesn't suit their agenda.